By the Rio Grande
They dance no sarabande
On level banks like lawns above the glassy, lolling tide ;
Nor sing they forlorn madrigals
Whose sad note stirs the sleeping gales
Till they wake among the trees and shake the boughs,
And fright the nightingales ;
But they dance in the city, down the public squares,
On the marble pavers with each colour laid in shares,
At the open church doors loud with light within.
At the bell's huge tolling,
By the river music, gurgling, thin
Through the soft Brazilian air.
Tile Comendador and Alguacil are there
On horseback, hid with feathers, loud and shrill
Blowing orders on their trumpets like a bird's sharp bill
Through boughs, like a bitter wind, calling
They shine like steady starlight while those other sparks are failing
In burnished armour, with their plumes of fire,
Tireless while all others tire.
The noisy streets are empty and hushed is the town
To where, in the square, they dance and the band is playing ;
Such a space of silence through the town to the river
That the water murmurs loud -
Above the band and crowd together;
And the strains of the sarabande,
More lively than a madrigal,
Go hand in hand
Like the river and its waterfall
As the great Rio Grande rolls down to the sea.
Loud is the marimba's note
Above these half -salt waves,
And louder still the tympanum,
The plectrum, and the kettle-drum,
Sullen and menacing
Do these brazen voices ring.
They ride outside,
Above the salt-sea's tide.
Till the ships at anchor there
Hear this enchantment,
Of the soft Brazilian air,
By those Southern winds wafted,
Slow and gentle,
Their fierceness tempered
By the air that flows between.
(The poem is from " The Thirteenth Caesar, and other Poems," by Sacheverell Sitwell, published by Messrs. Gerald Duckworth & Co., Ltd., London).
THE WORK AND ITS COMPOSER.
R. Constant Lambert, a son of Mr. G. W. Lambert,
A.R.A., the painter, and brother of Maurice Lambert, sculptor, was born in London in 1905. He was trained at the Royal College of Music, under Vaughan Williams and R. O. Morris. He was the first English and, incidentally, the youngest composer to be commissioned to write a ballet for the late Serge Diaghileff. This ballet, " Romeo and Juliet," was produced at Monte Carlo in 1926. Another ballet by Lambert was produced by Nijinska in Buenos Ayres in 1927.
The composer himself admits that his recent works have been strongly influenced by modern dance music, and " Rio Grande," which has created what is perhaps the musical sensation of the season, is the best and most typical example of this influence.
" Rio Grande " had its first London concert performance in the Hallé Orchestra concert at the Queen's Hall on December 13th, 1929, and met with such success that it was repeated at the subsequent Hallé Concert the following month.
The work was inspired by the poem of the same name by Sacheverell Sitwell. Without being too exact as to locality, the music and poetry endeavour, and with very great success, to paint a " tone-picture " of any gay cosmopolitan riverside town in North or South America, particularly where negro dances and gaiety mingle with other musical influences. The instrumentation of the work has been most carefully planned, its various groupings being played off against each other or combined with dazzling effect. It roughly divides itself into three sections :—a small choir, with an occasional solo for the alto ; an orchestra of strings and eight brass instruments, with a percussion department containing no less than 15 varieties of instruments, with five players to handle them ; and a solo piano. With these groups the composer has very happily conveyed his picture, with constantly developing changes and exciting rhythms. The piano, too, is also utilised in the same way, both as a means of adding to the orchestral tone colour scheme and in some exceedingly beautiful solo parts.
The work is one of real sentiment, and if the poem be read to enable the listener to appreciate the atmosphere, the sincerity of the composer in his expression will be quickly apparent. The music is gay and joyous, with quieter moods as the picture changes, and the composer succeeds in carrying the hearer with him an interest that is sustained by the picturesqueness of the music itself and its animation.
Its freshness is an additional charm, and the entire work is one that will yield complete enjoyment at a first hearing.
THE COLUMBIA RECORDS.
Part I—Plucked chords on the strings and a crescendo in which the percussion department is strongly in evidence, lead to an incisive figure for the piano and the announcement on the violins of a fragment of strongly syncopated rhythm. Close on the heels of this, the choir enters, its lively syncopated phrases making it clear that stately sarabandes and madrigals have no place in the dances of the Rio Grande of to-day. After an immense climax and a short but lovely solo by the alto, the piano enters with a light syncopated figure that continues while the chorus sing " but they dance in the city." This dance rhythm is hushed fora moment by " the bell's huge tolling," but dominates the work until brushed aside by a vigorous march that announces the Comendador and Alguacil "blowing orders on their trumpets . . . tireless while all others tire." The return of some of the previously heard thematic fragments in a whirl of sound ends this part.
Part 2.—A brilliant cadenza (based on tunes heard W the first part) for solo piano, accompanied only by four drum-players, leads to a most poetic slow passage for piano alone, on a new rhythm that betrays its " tango " parentage. Presently the choir re-enters softly to the words " The noisy streets are empty "—a most beautiful piece of writing—and the mood thus engendered continues to the end of this side, particularly notable being some of the striking chordal writing for the lower registers of the brass at the very end.
Part 3—Still based on music previously heard—the thematic economy is very striking — there is a gradual return to the former animation, followed by a furious climax on the words " as the Rio Grande rolls down to the sea," with the upper notes of the piano and trumpets stridently piercing through the orchestral and choral hurly-burly. Suddenly there is a moment's complete silence, and a new rhythmic figure on the piano and castanets is introduced, followed by the choir enunciating a theme based on the melody that announced the Comendador and Alguacil in Part 1, to the words "Loud is the marimba's note," and ending in another great fortissimo of almost hectic energy.
Part 4—The quiet mood of the ending of the poem is mirrored in the music, for, following a candenza-like flourish on the piano, and a momentary return to its previous tango-like rhythm, the alto soloist sings of the enchantment wrought by the soft southern hinds on the brazen music heard faintly on the ships lying anchored in the bay. The chorus softly interjects short phrases mingled with some brief roulades by the pianist, and the music concludes with the softest of chords by the strings and piano. After all the clash and brilliance that have gone before, this effective sentimental close is most poetic and makes a fitting conclusion to a masterly and dazzling study.
(NB. The Parts referred to here indicate the disc sides)
Biographical notes from Wikipedia
Leonard Constant Lambert (August 23, 1905 – August 21, 1951) was a British composer and conductor.
Lambert was the son of Russian-born Australian painter George Lambert. Educated at Christ's Hospital and the Royal College of Music, Lambert was a prodigy, writing orchestral works from the age of 13, and at 20 received a commission to write a ballet for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (Romeo and Juliet).
For a few years he enjoyed a meteoric celebrity, including participating in a recording of William Walton's Façade with Edith Sitwell. Lambert's most famous composition is The Rio Grande for piano solo, chorus and orchestra. A recording survives with Hamilton Harty as the soloist and the Hallé Orchestra conducted by the composer. Lambert had a great interest in American Negro music, and once said that he would have ideally liked The Rio Grande to feature a black choir.
During the 1930s, his career as a conductor took off with his appointment with the Vic-Wells ballet (later the Royal Ballet), but his career as a composer stagnated. His major choral work Summer's Last Will and Testament (after the play of the same name by Thomas Nashe), one of his most emotionally dark works, proved unfashionable in the mood following the death of the King (George V), but Alan Frank hailed it at the time as Lambert's "finest work". Lambert himself considered he had failed as a composer, and completed only two major works in the remaining sixteen years of his life. Instead he concentrated on conducting, and appeared at Covent Garden and in BBC broadcasts, and accompanied the ballet in European and American tours.
The war took its toll of his vitality and creativity, and his health declined with the development of diabetes which remained untreated for years owing to his fear of doctors, stemming from childhood.
Lambert was famous in his day as a raconteur and, unusually for an Englishman, as an expert on many different arts, and on modern European culture. He was also one of the first "serious" composers to understand fully the importance of jazz and popular culture in the music of his time. This is illustrated by his book Music Ho! (1934), subtitled "a study of music in decline", which remains one of the wittiest, if highly opinionated, volumes of music criticism in the English language. He was at the centre of a brilliant literary and intellectual circle including Michael Ayrton, Sacheverell Sitwell and Anthony Powell, and despite Powell's denial, he is often said to be the prototype of the character Hugh Moreland in Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time.
As a conductor he had an instinctive appreciation of Liszt, Chabrier, Waldteufel and romantic Russian composers, and made fine recordings of some of their works. However, it was only when his health was declining that his career had a chance to flourish with the development of the BBC Third Programme and the Philharmonia Orchestra, having struggled for many years to extract vital performances from second-rate ensembles.
Lambert was married twice. His first marriage was to Florence Kaye, and they had a son, Kit Lambert (born in 1935). He later married Isabel Nichols, an artist, in 1947. After Constant Lambert's death, Isabel married Alan Rawsthorne.
Lambert died on 21 August 1951, two days short of his forty-sixth birthday, of pneumonia and undiagnosed diabetes complicated by acute alcoholism, and was buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.